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Joint Press Conference with Secretary Hagel and Minister Kim Kwan-jin in the Republic of Korea

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Kim Kwan-jin, Minister of National Defense, Republic of Korea
October 02, 2013

KIM MIN-SEOK (through translator): Good morning. I'm the Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Kim Min-seok. Next to me is the Pentagon spokesperson, Mr. George Little.

 I'd like to start now the 45th SCM joint press briefing. The briefing will start with remarks by Minister Kim and then remarks by Secretary Hagel.

KIM KWAN-JIN (through translator): First, I would like to take this opportunity to extend my gratitude to Secretary Hagel, who is visiting Korea for an unprecedented four days to commemorate 60 years of the ROK-U.S. alliance and participate in their ceremonies for ROK-U.S. Alliance Day, as well as the Republic of Korea Armed Forces Day.

On this occasion of the 60th anniversary of our alliance, Secretary Hagel and I have agreed during the SCM to develop the ROK-U.S. alliance, which is stronger than ever before, into a more future-oriented and comprehensive strategic alliance.

At the SCM today, Secretary Hagel and I have agreed on important ROK-U.S. issues. First, the Republic of Korea and the United States have completed, agreed on, and signed the tailored deterrence strategy against North Korean nuclear and other WMD threats. This was optimized for the Korean peninsula's security situation to deter North Korea's nuclear threat, which has materialized after the third nuclear test.

The tailored deterrence strategy includes effective deterrence options against key North Korean nuclear threat scenarios. This will greatly enhance the efficacy of the alliance's deterrence against North Korea, as well as our citizens' trust towards U.S. commitment to provide extended deterrence.

Second, paying particular attention to the dynamic security environment on the Korean peninsula, including the intensifying North Korean nuclear missile threats, Secretary Hagel and I share an understanding on the condition-based OPCON transition based on the Strategic Alliance 2015 and agreed to continue consultations on the conditions and timing of OPCON transitions. We have further agreed to create a ROK-U.S. joint working group to discuss these issues immediately following the SCM.

Third, Secretary Hagel and I decided to continue developing a comprehensive alliance counter-missile strategy to detect, defend, disrupt, and destroy North Korean missile threats. To this end, the ROK will continue to build reliable interoperable alliance response capabilities, including the kill chain and the Korean air and missile defense system.

Fourth, Secretary Hagel and I also agreed to further promote bilateral cooperation in new security areas, including cyber and space. Both countries concluded the terms of reference for cyber cooperation working group and thereby establishing institutional foundation for cyber cooperation. We noted highly the progress on actual cooperation and space issues following the conclusion of terms of reference for space cooperation during last year's SCM, and we agreed to expand and deepen our defense cooperation across various security areas in the future.

In addition, Secretary Hagel and I assessed that the robust combined defense posture is successfully deterring North Korean provocations, while also contributing greatly to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia. We agreed to maintain and strengthen our combined defense posture well into the future.

To this end, the United States reiterated the commitment to maintain current levels of U.S. military personnel in the Republic of Korea and to enhance combat readiness. The United States also reiterated the firm and unwavering commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea using capabilities postured on the Korean peninsula and globally available U.S. forces and capabilities.

Finally, the ROK and U.S. will cooperate more closely so that the ROK-U.S. alliance, as a lynchpin for peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region, can develop into a global partnership that contributes to peace not only on the Korean peninsula, but also in the region and across the globe.

Thank you.

SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you. Minister Kim, thank you. It has been a pleasure for me to visit Seoul, and I have deeply appreciated your warm hospitality as we've celebrated and renewed the close bonds of friendship and enduring alliance between our two nations, as well as renewing our personal friendship.

We just finished a very positive and productive 45th annual Security Consultative Meeting. We were joined by General Dempsey, who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States armed forces, our Pacific commander, Admiral Locklear, the outgoing and incoming commanders of U.S. Forces Korea, General Thurman and General Scaparrotti, and all our Korean counterparts who are with us today.

This annual high-level meeting is a unique feature of our alliance, which was forged through shared sacrifice and has become a foundation of stability and prosperity, both here on the peninsula and around the region.

One theme that I'd emphasize throughout this visit is the United States' firm and unwavering commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea. It was evident when I met with our troops near the DMZ during Monday's alliance night celebration and at yesterday's armed forces event.

Today, I was proud to reaffirm our commitment to maintaining our current force posture on the peninsula, while also strengthening combat capabilities and readiness throughout the Asia Pacific region. A recent example of this can be seen at Camp Humphreys, where a squadron of 30 armed reconnaissance helicopters arrived this week.

The United States makes these commitments not only because of our mutual defense treaty, but also because of our firm view that North Korea's policies and provocations pose a serious threat to regional stability and global security, a view that Minister Kim and I both underscored in our meeting this morning.

Of particular concern are North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, its proliferation activities, and its chemical weapons. There should be no doubt that any North Korean use of chemical weapons would be completely unacceptable.

Given these concerns, as Minister Kim noted, today we signed a bilateral strategy for tailored deterrence against the threat of North Korean nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. This will create a strategic policy-level framework within the alliance for deterring these specific threats and help us work together more seamlessly to maximize the effects of our deterrence.

Can you hear me now? Thank you. As I reiterated to Minister Kim -- can't hear me?

SECRETARY HAGEL: They can't hear, that's right. Yeah.

(UNKNOWN): Is that working or not?

SECRETARY HAGEL: I don't think it is working. It is working? Okay.

(UNKNOWN): Yes, it is working.

SECRETARY HAGEL: We'll try it again. As I reiterated to Minister Kim, the United States remains committed to using all our military capabilities, including missile defense, conventional strike, and our nuclear umbrella, to provide our Korean allies with extended deterrence that is credible, capable, and enduring.

We also discussed what our alliance has accomplished beyond the peninsula. I noted the Republic of Korea's important contributions to U.N. peacekeeping in Lebanon, counter piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and reconstruction in the Republic of South Sudan, as well as its continued active participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative.

And I expressed our particular gratitude for the Republic of Korea's contributions in Afghanistan.

Looking toward the future, Minister Kim and I welcomed our recent progress on space and cyberspace, which he has noted. Our cyber cooperation working group has had several productive discussions over the past few months, and we look forward to further cooperation on cyber policy, information-sharing, and other elements that will improve our collective readiness against cyber threats.

And finally, we discussed, as Minister Kim noted, the transition of wartime operational control. We have taken the issues that our Republic of Korea allies have raised very seriously. The Republic of Korea military has grown stronger, more professional, and more capable, especially over the past decade. This is a trend that we want to see continue.

As allies, the United States and the Republic of Korea regularly evaluate what capabilities need to be brought into the alliance and what responsibilities and roles we each play. Both sides must continue to make progress to improve capabilities and implement commitments under the Strategic Alliance 2015 plan.

We've had good discussions regarding the timing of OPCON transfer, and I look forward to continuing consultations on this issue in the weeks and the months ahead, as we continue preparing this alliance to meet the challenges of the future.

Before taking your questions, I want to express my gratitude on behalf of President Obama, all of our men and women who represent this country, and the United States military, our gratitude to General J.D. Thurman, who helped make these consultations not just today a success, but in the time that he has spent leading combined forces here, he has made a significant difference and been a very important part of strengthening -- enhancing this alliance. J.D. -- thank you.

I'll have more to say about General Thurman at today's change of command ceremonies. I also wish to welcome General Scaparrotti to his new position and note that President Obama and our entire country has great confidence in General Scaparrotti's leadership and what he will do here. So, welcome, Scap.

And in closing, I want to acknowledge the United States ambassador to the Republic of South Korea, Ambassador Kim, who has served over here very ably, effectively. We're very proud of Ambassador Kim and I particularly appreciated all of his courtesies here during our visit and all your help. Ambassador Kim, thank you very much.

Thank you.

KIM MIN-SEOK (through translator): So we'll start taking questions now. And before posing questions, please reveal your name and affiliations, and we'll take a total of four questions, two from ROK and two from U.S. The order will be first question from ROK, next question from U.S.

QUESTION (through translator): Secretary Hagel, this is a question for you. My name is – inaudible -- from Yonhap News. Regarding the Korean proposal to postpone the OPCON transition, I wonder if you could shed some light on what type of discussions took place today, as well as the Pentagon's general stance. And also, I understand that the reason for the ROK government requesting this OPCON transition postponement was down to the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, specifically the miniaturization of nuclear warheads. And I wonder what your assessment on their capabilities in this area is.

SECRETARY HAGEL: Thank you. As Minister Kim noted, our discussions, which have been ongoing, will continue to be ongoing regarding the OPCON transfer, is and has been conditions-based. Both of us, as partners do, are working through those conditions, and I'm very optimistic that we will have an agreement on those conditions and we will get to where we need to be on the OPCON transfer.

MR. GEORGE LITTLE: On the U.S. side, we'll start with Lita Baldor of the Associated Press.

Q: For the minister, Mr. Minister, can you address the OPCON issue? What do you think the U.S. needs to do to help South Korea reach this end game of being able to take the transfer? How long do you think it'll take for this transition to happen?

And, Mr. Secretary, can you just give us a little bit more detail on this new tailored deterrence strategy? What do you think it is that the U.S. needs to do through this strategy in order to meet these goals? How is this different than what the U.S. has already been doing?

MINISTER KIM KWAN-JIN (through translator): Thank you. Regarding OPCON transition, back in 2007, when we agreed on the OPCON transition, the security situation on the Korean peninsula back then is vastly different to the one now, especially in the wake of the third nuclear test that North Korea conducted. And, of course, various different situations dictate for more fluidity and danger in the future security situation. And this will probably persist as long as North Korea maintains its possession of a nuclear program.

And so it was imperative to comprehensively review all of the foundational elements in our security situations and assess what specific conditions we needed and we would need to discuss. And the timeline for deciding upon the specific timing of the OPCON transition still needs further discussions and consultation. And for that consultation, we have created a special working group who will deal with these discussions.

SECRETARY HAGEL: As to your question on the details, deterrence strategy, first, I would refer to what Minister Kim just noted -- review. We're always reviewing strategies. We are always reviewing our capabilities. We know that North Korea has increased its threats, clearly, against South Korea, against the United States. It has increased its capabilities, its missile capabilities, three nuclear tests.

So that is constantly forcing a review of our strategies, the interoperability of our militaries, the assets that we have and work together on. So it's not new in a sense that anything is static. It can't be static. We noted in some of our comments here this morning, as was -- and were much evidenced in much of our discussion this morning -- how we are doing things differently. And we mentioned some of those today. So it's a constant review process based on threats, based on capabilities, and deterrence is -- is much the essence of this alliance.

QUESTION (through translator): This is a question for Secretary Hagel. Regarding your remarks on OPCON transition, I believe you mentioned the Korean missile defense capabilities are integral to the OPCON transition plans. And I wonder if you have relayed to the Korean government the idea of Korea participating in a U.S.-led missile defense system -- missile defense initiative.

My second question is more about the miniaturization capabilities that North Korea has regarding its nuclear weapons, because, again, it is also central to the OPCON transition and plans. Could you please give us more details on your perspective on this issue?

And my last question is about General Scaparrotti. I understand that during his Senate hearing for ratification, General Scaparrotti expressed his support to pursue the same -- the same premeditated timeline we have for OPCON transition to occur in 2015. Could you clarify the U.S. stance on this?

SECRETARY HAGEL: Well, thank you. Let me begin with -- you asked three questions, so let me begin with the third -- General Scaparrotti's testimony. We are continuing to work with the Republic of South Korea based on timelines that we are now dealing with. And as I said -- and Minister Kim -- these are always conditions-based. We're not going to make any decisions that in the end are not in the interests of the Republic of Korea or in the interests of the United States. So I think General Scaparrotti's testimony was perfectly consistent with where both of our policies have been.

Regarding missile defense, I noted in the previous question I answered “interoperability”. We are working with Republic of Korea on their missile defense system. These don't have to be identical, as long as they're interoperable. We want systems that work together, that are interoperable. This involves a lot of command and control. This is -- this is complicated. This is a significant piece of the deterrence capability to meet the threats that North Korea increasingly presents to the Republic of South Korea and, as I noted, the United States.

The miniaturization issue is a part of the technologies that North Korea is developing, which further complicates, further threatens this peninsula and the region and the world.

MR. LITTLE: And we'll conclude with Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post.

Q: Thank you. I'd like to ask you both about the expense of keeping U.S. troops stationed here in the Korean peninsula. Minister Kim, the U.S. Senate has said that your government's burden-sharing contributions have not kept up with the increasing costs of maintaining U.S. troops here. I understand that negotiations are underway on a new security measures agreement, but is your government willing to shoulder more of those costs?

And, Mr. Secretary, in the context of the rebalance to Asia and sequestration, will the rising costs of keeping U.S. troops here curtail missions or plans through the department elsewhere in the region? Thank you.

MINISTER KIM KWAN-JIN (through translator): For the past 60 years, the ROK-U.S. alliance has efficiently deterred North Korean provocations, as well as maintained peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. And USFK has been at the very core of all these efforts. And the combined fighting capabilities are very integral to these USFK missions.

And we have always maintained and will continue our efforts to ensure the stable presence of USFK on the peninsula. The exact amounts and levels of the costs have yet to be negotiated, and we will come to a conclusion in the future.

SECRETARY HAGEL: As to your question, Craig, first, the United States has interests all over the world. And as I've said -- and I think President Obama has said -- we will not retreat from those interests. I've also said, in answer to your question about missions being affected by actions such as government shutdown and sequestration, I said that missions will be affected.

But you asked, I believe, if they would be curtailed. We'll adjust. We are adjusting now. We have to adjust. That's not new in the real world. But our focus on our interests and our commitments to our allies will remain the same, as I think I have noted. Certainly, as you mentioned, the rebalance to the Asia Pacific, this is a priority, and you always adjust your resources to match your priorities. And we will continue to do that.

Thank you.